hive stands and structures

An immense observation hive

Whenever someone mentions an observation hive, I remember a small and narrow glass box that I once saw in a New Jersey museum. The bees came and went through a small tube and the comb was all crushed against the glass and not all that interesting. But last week when beekeeper Carl Uhlman of Seattle sent me these pictures, I was amazed. He and his wife happened across this colossal observation hive while on vacation to an island off the northwest coast of the Netherlands. Check out his story and photos below. Thanks, Carl! Very cool.

While on a magical 13-day bike and barge vacation in the Netherlands, my wife and I stumbled across a beekeeping museum on the island of Terschelling, in or near the village of Lies.  We have had a backyard hive for over ten years so of course we were curious enough to stop and check it out.  Inside the museum we found the largest observation hive I have ever seen!

For more information on how we came to be on this remote island in The Netherlands go to the website and look up the Friesland tour.

The beekeeping museum entrance, complete with napping beekeeper. Sadly he spoke no English and all the signage and educational material was in Dutch.

Large observation hive was suspended from the ceiling. For comparison, note the smaller more traditional version off to the left. The unidentified Dutch tourists help give a sense of scale. I estimate that the six plexiglass panels were each about 2 feet x 4 feet.

Close-up of the comb as viewed through the plexiglass panel. This was a very strong and active hive.

Slightly different angle of the large observation hive. The round area on the bottom was a screen so you could really hear and smell the hive, giving a lot of “energy” to this room. In the upper left you can kind of see the plexiglass-covered joist area where they come and go to the outside.

This picture shows the bee entrance to the large observation hive, above the window.


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  • This is interesting. I always wondered how large a hive would get if given enough space, taking into consideration the natural process of swarming.

    Also, how long would this specimen have taken to reach that size?

  • Rusty – don’t the bees mind the daylight? Wonder what happens in winter. Wonder more about how they maintain this amazing display.

    Wonder, indeed.


    • Chris, are you a beekeeper? If not and you are interested check for local beekeeping organizations. They often have classes. I’m in TX and have had 2 hives since April 28, 2012. I took classes through the CCHBA(Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Assn.) Good luck!

  • Rusty , This is AWESOME!!! Do you know where i could find out more about construction, ventilation, access for care, all the gritty details on maintenance, etc?

  • Hello all of above readers, I live in the Netherlands and although I have never been to Terschelling myself I am now definitely going to see if I can make a visit in the spring. I can also try to get the information they have translated into English if anyone is interested in that. Hope this might be of use to you.

    • That would be great, Lindy. I would love to know what they have to say about it, and I’m sure others are interested as well. You will have so much fun!

    • Please send more information about the construction of this observation hive.

  • Things like this are why my wife does not like me on the internet. I think I have enough 5/8 plexi to make a 2 deep langstrom in my living room. Inspecting them would be a breeze. Not real sure about mite control and honey harvesting though lol. I am fairly certain she does not want bees running loose in the house.

  • I love this! I’m interested in getting one of these built in our city zoo……….how cool would that be?!!

    • Mike,

      OMG is that ever cool! If you leave up the pics, I will link to them from the blog. Awesome.

  • Rusty,
    Thanks for your enthusiastic response, please do include the link to my Flickr set for my observation hive.

    I plan to keep these permanently on Flickr.

    As you will be able to see I have included a permanently inspectable nucleus area at the back with a debris monitoring draw and a slotted board for comb building to allow the use of ‘trickle between the combs’ type treatment. I hope that by periodically removing bars of comb and brood from the nucleus area during the early summer I will encourag new comb building in the void remaining and always keep at least a couple of combs of brood removable in that area for disease monitoring. I think if I just left them alone the brood area would eventually move out of the nucleus area completely into the main hive. I am also considering putting a super in the maintenance area above the hive this would be accessed through the hole intended for access to a syrup feeder.
    We are all really excited to see how the hive progresses this year.

    I am very open to any suggestions as to how I might improve the management of this hive to keep it running as a healthy long term display.

    I will keep adding photos to the set as and when I can – watch this space!

    • Mike,

      Where is this at? I would love to see it and pick your brain. Please tell me Texas. My customer wants me to mimic the hanging Netherlands hive, but it will be made to look more like furniture for the centerpiece of their new home. All suggestions are needed as this is my first hive. Luckily I build mostly creative projects like tree houses and was thinking of combining the two to get it out of their living room. thanks K3

      • Hi Tnilk,
        My observation hive is in the UK (County of Norfolk).

        Have a look at my website and flickr album for loads of photo’s, if you have specific questions about running/construction/dimensions then ask away or email me direct


  • Love this! Lets – as I heard Les Crowder say “A bee be a bee” in constructing the combs. When I’m settled, etc. would love this. Probably would use stingless bees if possible – had trouble with neighbors in North Texas (no stings occurred) due to fear – and again – the bee guru told us in class “Respect not Fear” – but this is higher thinking.

  • I’d love an observation beehive like this one or Mike Southern’s. Unfortunately, please be aware that many states in the US have regulations requiring that ALL frames are able to be removed from the hive without causing injury to other combs in the hive. This is required so that state bee inspectors can inspect hives for disease. Even though one would be able to tell if there were problems by looking through the clear glass, or by removing the center brood combs as in Mike’s hive, I suspect that many US states would not allow this. Perhaps in some places, one might be able to get special permission. What a bummer, as these hives are not only educational, but a true work of art created by the bees themselves.

    • Tom,

      Not just some states, but all 50 states, require moveable frames. This large observation hive is in the Netherlands.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I have just posted a 4 minute video tour of my large observation hive on my website. The colony didn’t make it through the winter and I have just had a spring clean ready for introducing a new colony.

    My latest addition to the project is to have hourly photo/video from inside the hive using a smartphone app (with solar charger) posted straight to my website, just got a couple of technical issues to sort out first!

    Always look forward to your posts
    Mike Southern (Joinerbee)

  • Hello! My name is Alexander, I’m 29 years old, I’m from Ukraine, I’m looking for a beekeeper or assistant beekeeper’s job, for a season, by contract, as you please. I am engaged in beekeeping for 3 years. I speak English and Polish.

  • It’s amazingly bee-utiful. You can observe nature’s way of life in grander design!

    Thank you.


  • Do you know how they built it? And if there are mites issues? And how did they populate it?

  • By looking at the pictures, one would think the bees handle being visibly exposed with no issue!

    How successful is this hive all around in comparison to the normal dark hives we are more familiar with?

    Are there any noticeable changes in behavior being exposed like this as opposed to being hidden in a wooden box?

    • Brandon,

      I don’t know the scientific answer to your questions, but I do know people have been successfully keeping bees in observation hives for generations. Also, in warmer climates honey bees will build open hives in trees or under eaves. So really, I don’t think darkness is necessary.